Nonfatal Strangulation Is Now a Felony in MarylandIn response to concerns that strangulation leads to homicide, Maryland passed a law (effective October 1, 2020) making strangulation a felony. A leading reason for the new law is the large number of domestic violence cases where one spouse strangled or tried to strangle their spouse, a romantic partner, or anyone in their household.

According to WFMD, strangulation is now a 1st-degree felony. A conviction can result in imprisonment of up to 25 years. Before 10/1/2020, the sentence for strangulation was a maximum of 10 years. Prior to the enactment of the felony law, Maryland was just one of three states that did not classify strangulation as a 1st-degree felony – even though one Frederick County prosecutor said that strangulation victims have a 750% increased risk of dying due to domestic violence.

Strangulation can quickly cut off the supply of blood and air everyone needs to live. Counties are now creating domestic violence prosecutors and victim-witness coordinator positions to help address strangulation charges. Many hospitals have special units that evaluate victims to determine if there might be a link to domestic violence. The hospital staff may work with prosecutors to support a showing that the victims was strangled by taking photographs and providing other documentation.

Why is strangulation in domestic violence cases such as a major concern

According to Naples Shelter for Abused Women and Children, health providers need to recognize the signs of strangulation to reduce the risk of long-term damage, document the abuse, and provide appropriate referrals. Strangulation can be fatal or cause serious, permanent damage which is why Maryland prosecutors are giving strangulation higher priority.

The Naples Shelter states that one in four women experience some form of “intimate partner violence (IPV) during their lifetime.” Of those 25%, up to 68% will suffer a near-fatal strangulation by their domestic partner. In most cases, the hands are used to strangle. 38% of victims of strangulation reported losing consciousness. 35% were strangled during sexual assault or abuse. 9% of the victims are pregnant. 7 in 10 women feared for their life.

The Nursing Shelter states that strangulation is a form of power and control over their partner. A victim can lose consciousness in 5-10 seconds and die within minutes. Depending on the facts and the severity, defendants who are charged with domestic violence can also be charged with strangulation, and possibly with a homicide charge. Health care providers should review with the patient, if possible, whether the accused has access to firearms, if there are acts of sexual violence or injury to animals, and if the patient is suicidal.

What’s the different between strangulation and choking?

Strangulation is not the same as choking, even though people use them interchangeably.

Choking occurs when there’s a blockage in the throat – the type incident you see on Heimlich posters in restaurants.

Strangulation, on the other hand, “refers to when pressure is applied from the outside, cutting off airflow and/or blood vessels in the neck, preventing oxygen from reaching the brain.” When someone is being strangled, they can lose consciousness. The carotid arteries in the neck may be obstructed preventing the brain from getting the oxygen it needs.

Signs of strangulation

Many times, the signs of strangulation are not visible. According to one prosecutor, in the Naples shelter report, only about ½ of strangulation victims have neck marks and only about 15% of those marks could be clearly photographed. That can make it tough to prove strangulation in a courtroom. It’s also why police will look for signs of attack on the accused, like scratch marks.

How the new strangulation law is affecting criminal cases

If there is any hint of strangulation, the cases are going to the circuit court automatically. Prosecutors are now charging domestic violence defendants with 1st-degree felonies and even with attempted 1st-degree murder. Many of these charges are being filed even when there isn’t supporting medical evidence – just allegations by the victim.

In the past, police officers who responded to a domestic violence complaint might arrest the assailant, but they might leave it up to the victim to file a complaint. Even when there was an arrest, most of the time the criminal charges would be misdemeanors. Now, many domestic violence cases are being sent to the Maryland Attorney’s Office to review whether the charges should be upgraded to a felony. Most counties and states have special domestic violence units – just like you can see on TV.

What defenses apply in a strangulation case?

Your Annapolis criminal defense lawyer may use any or all of the following arguments in strangulation cases:

  • Lack of medical evidence to corroborate the claim.
  • Asserting of self-defense – that the victim attacked the assailant first and the defendant was just trying to prevent further attacks.
  • Arguing that the victim’s claims are a fabrication/lie, especially if the assertions aren’t justified by the medical evidence (or lack of medical evidence).
  • Asserting a violation of a defendant’s Constitutional rights if the prosecution tries to introduce statements the defendant made when the arrest or investigation occurred, or any physical evidence that was improperly seized.

At Drew Cochran, Attorney at Law, our seasoned Annapolis and Ellicott City assault defense attorney has 20 years of experience. He fights for defendants accused of felonies, misdemeanors, and domestic violence. He works with physicians who may be able to show the lack of validity of a victim’s claim of strangulation. He fights to obtain dismissals and acquittals. If you’ve been arrested for any domestic violence crime, or are facing potential charges of strangulation, call us today at 410-271-1892 or complete our contact form to schedule an appointment.

And remember: Keep Calm – and Call Drew.